I write fiction, short stories usually. These have been contemporary, but of late I’ve been drawn to write some set in the decades of the twentieth century. It’s partly because I’ve been thinking of all those anniversaries of events that shaped the century, and partly because I get story inspirations from programmes like Long Lost Families and Who Do You Think You Are. Mostly, though, I think it’s a wish to explore the times my parents lived through; and the years I lived in myself, beyond the edge of memory.
I went with work colleagues once on a Mystery Bus Tour around the streets of Edinburgh and then out to the Hawes Inn at South Queensferry for chicken-in-the-basket. The only ‘mystery’ as far as I could see was how had the bus driver got the job as our guide, because he had no grasp of history whatsoever. Everything, from Mary, Queen of Scots to the Second World War, was lumped together as ‘in those days’ and the expression has become a jokey byword in my house for anything historical.
But such flannel will not do in fiction, not if you hope to have it published. Social etiquettes and morals, clothes, food, films, music, domestic arrangements, transport – all the details of ‘those days’ have to be checked out. Thank goodness then for Google, for Facebook friends and for the social history books on my shelves. And since my husband works from home I use him as an information point as well.
To give a flavour of what I’ve been writing recently, here are some questions I’ve thrown at the poor man when he’s come through to the kitchen for lunch.
What kind of car would a well-to-do young man drive in the late 1960s?
Do you know anything about naval ranks? Naval uniforms?
Have you ever heard of deck golf?
What sort of hat would a spivvy type wear in 1932?
How much do you think dolly mixtures were in 1955?
Were Cadbury wrappers always purple?
Did you ever pick up pennies thrown by a bride’s father?
How would you put out a chimney fire?
He hardly ever has the answer but it makes for interesting discussions over a cheese sandwich.